This essay aims to critically evaluate two sides to the net neutrality debate. I will first be defining what net neutrality is and who the term was first coined by. I will then be addressing the history of net neutrality and then gradually working towards some of the arguments both for and against net neutrality, as well as my opinion on the matter. Although it is mainly a topic of discussion in the US, this has sparked some discussion as to whether or not it should be introduced in Australia.
Net Neutrality can best be described as the principle where there should be no restriction on an individual’s access to the networks that make up the infrastructure of the internet. There should also be no discrimination between the types and sources of data travelling across the networks (Denardis, 2014). Interestingly, the term “net neutrality” was first coined in 2003 by a media-law professor at Colombia University, Tim Wu.
The net neutrality movement was sparked in the US, in the early 2000’s when Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) in the US decided to ban certain customers from using Virtual Private Networks (VPN’s). This then stemmed into further concerns about whether or not ISP’s were able to favourite or prioritize certain content. The role of an ISP is actually to act as a common, unbiased carrier of all internet content that allows us to connect to a global network. In the United States, ISP’s have been defined in net neutrality legislation as “common carriers”, the effect of this legislation is that ISP’s will be expected to operate in the same way as telephone companies.
Net Neutrality Highway Depiction, Photo by Alyssa Templeton from Central Michigan Life
In 2003, the term “net neutrality” was first coined in 2003 by a media-law professor at Colombia University, Tim Wu.
In 2010, The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted the Open Internet Order that essentially ensured that all citizens had equal and unbiased access to the internet. Gross (2010) added that “The rules are designed to, in effect, keep the companies that own the internet’s real-world infrastructure from slowing down some types of websites or apps — say, those belonging to a competitor — or speeding up others for high-paying clients”.
Then in 2015, a few short years after the Open Internet Order was passed in the US, The European Union (EU) adopted a similar law called the Open Internet Regulation. This new regulation was seen to encompass the main principle of net neutrality: “internet traffic shall be treated without discrimination, blocking, throttling or prioritization” (Grussmann, 2018).
The EU also ended roaming charges as of June 2017, meaning that individuals will pay the same price throughout the EU for calls, texts and mobile data. The European Commission (2015) stated that “every European must be able to have access to the open internet and all content and service providers must be able to provide their services via a high-quality open internet”.
Finally in 2017 under the Trump administration, The FCC, chaired by Ajit Pai managed to repeal the net neutrality laws that had been put into place in 2010, thus creating a more open and free market for ISP’s to operate in.
My view: against
I see no need for Australia to adopt net neutrality laws. The competitive broadband provider space in Australia ensures that Australians have a choice of which broadband providers to use. Although with that being said, our largest telecom provider and media company is Telstra (Daly, 2014). Telstra provides “wholesale and retail Internet services” (p2), as well as cables that link Australia’s communications, under the ocean, to the rest of the world. Australia’s second-largest telecoms company, Optus, who are rivals with Telstra, “provides Internet including via cable, fixed line and mobile services” (Daly, 2014,p3).
Consequently, in Australia we are able to switch providers if any one provider were to restrict part of our internet service. “In broadband, it’s the content providers who have leverage over the ISPs” (Downes, 2017). Our strong consumer protection laws are enforced by The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (Schaffarczyk, 2014), offering sufficient protection. Any attempt by a large carrier to engage in anti-competitive conduct such as blocking or limiting access to a competitor’s service will precipitate legal action by the ACCC. The ACCC acts as a watchdog for consumer rights and they maintain vigilant oversight of the competitive practices in the space.
According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (as cited in Daly, 2014), As of June 2013, “there were 419 ISPs operating in Australia” this shows the level of extreme choice Australians have when it comes to choosing who they want to use as their ISP. I think the main reason that I am so against adopting net neutrality laws in Australia is because we have never had them here and the way our system operates is very different to America, due to the very different political landscape in the two countries.
Another view: for
The idea of net neutrality is described by James Endres (2009) as being a problem that is unique to the US due to their lack of broadband internet access competition. Net neutrality laws in the US were introduced during Obama’s presidency on the 26th of February 2015. On this day the FCC reclassified broadband access as a telecommunications service, thus ruling in favour of net neutrality. This meant that Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 now applied to ISP’s.
Fast track to 2017 and The FCC – firmly backed by Donald Trump’s orders, abandoned net neutrality, meaning that American Internet Service Providers are able to mediate the access people have to the internet, as well as what they do on the internet. The reason behind Trump’s abolition of net neutrality laws were in order to support business-driven innovation and competition in the country. The new rules will require ISP’s to tell their customers when content will be blocked or slowed down, it will also mean that ISP’s are able to offer their customers the option of a “fast lane”, where they can pay more money to receive faster services
One reason in favour of net neutrality is that it is believed that it will lead to more competition amongst ISP’s. Save The Internet (2009, as cited by Endres, 2009) stated that “Net neutrality is the reason why the Internet has driven economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online. It protects the consumer’s right to use any equipment, content, application or service on a non-discriminatory basis without interference from the network provider. With net neutrality, the network’s only job is to move data – not choose which data to privilege with higher quality service.”
Another reason for net neutrality (In the US and not necessarily in Australia) is that it is believed that it will allow for more investment and services. There has been a limited amount of innovation coming from Broadband providers since the 2015 regulations came into effect. By developing more innovative services, this will allow the providers to expand and generate more revenue and take on board more customers. It has been said that companies in the US such as AT&T have stated that they believe the development of new internet technology could stall, saying that without there being rules in place, there is a higher chance of those companies not being able to meet the growing and changing needs of consumers.
In conclusion, over much debate between both the advantages and disadvantages of net neutrality, I do not believe that there is any need to introduce net neutrality to Australia. If we as a nation would still like to benefit from the competition that takes place between ISP’s then I believe it is in our best interests to steer clear from net neutrality laws Down Under. For larger economies such as the US, I believe it is in their best interest to keep the net neutrality laws that they had in place, as I believe it will maintain order and create less unfairness amongst consumers.
Pai, A (2015). Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved from https://www.fcc.gov/about/leadership/ajit-pai
Daly, A. (2016). Net Neutrality in Australia: The Debate Continues, But no Policy in Sight, Net Compendium, 141-156.
Denardis, L. (2014). Internet Access and Network Neutrality in The Global War for Internet Governance. Yale University Press. 131-152
Downes, L. (2017). The Tangled Web of Net Neutrality and Regulation. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/03/the-tangled-web-of-net-neutrality-and-regulation
Endres, J. (2009). Net neutrality – How relevant is it to Australia?, Telecommunications Journal of Australia,59, 22.1-22.10.
Gross, D. (2010). FCC approves controversial ‘net neutrality’ rules, CNN. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2010/TECH/web/12/21/fcc.net.neutrality/index.html
Grussman, W-D. (2018). Open Internet. European Commission. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/open-internet-net-neutrality
Schaffarczyk, K. (2014). Australia’s net neutrality lesson for the US. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/australias-net-neutrality-lesson-for-the-us-22245